Stop violent demonstrations
Seoul’s downtown streets around Gwanghwamun were tainted by violent clashes between protestors of the government’s labor policies and handling of the Sewol ferry disaster and riot police over the weekend. What began as a May Day rally led to demonstrators occupying several downtown streets and trying to march their way up to the presidential Blue House.
They attacked police buses that formed a long barricade to block their course. The police responded by firing water cannons and pepper spray at them. It was disturbing to see protesters banging on police buses with iron pipes, poking holes in the tires and even trying to topple the buses with ropes. Police buses are public property purchased with tax funds. The acts of violence cannot be excused regardless of the cause of the protest.
Some protestors were stopped by their peers when they attempted to set the buses on fire. Most dispersed around midnight, but some of them continued a sit-in the following day. Damaged buses were left at the scene, causing eyesore for families and others trying to enjoy their weekend out. In a democratic society, any expression of protest should be made within the boundaries of the law. Violence can only undermine the cause and righteousness of a protest.
Police should also be found accountable for failing to dissuade and calm the demonstrators. There had been cases of peaceful rallies in the weeks before. During cultural events to mourn victims of the Sewol ferry, police kept silently to the sidelines. They did not mobilize buses for barricades nor fire water cannons. Participants of the rallies cleaned the area after the events finished and returned home without any clashes with police.
Peaceful rallies are always possible if both the demonstrators and police refrain from provoking one another and instead show mutual respect. Society is not against protests but desires a display of civility and respect for law and order in demonstrations. We hope the scenes of violence won’t be repeated.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 26